LAWRENCE — A double-bill performance featuring students from the University of Kansas School of Music voice and orchestra programs will explore themes of identity, trauma and resilience through two contemporary operas. The virtual event is free to livestream from the Lied Center’s website at 7:30 p.m. April 27.
“Snow Angel,” composed by KU graduate Bonnie McLarty with words by Wyatt Townley, explores the reclamation of personal identity and agency following a sexual assault of the female protagonist. The opera was written as McLarty’s dissertation project, and this performance marks its premiere with a chamber ensemble. “As One,” composed by Laura Kaminsky with words by Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed and film also by Reed, traces the life experiences of a transgender protagonist named Hannah.
This double-bill performance was conceived by Carolyn Watson, director of orchestral activities, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The project provided KU students with both an opportunity to perform safely as well as a chance to learn about and address relevant social issues on college campuses.
“In addition to a long-overdue reckoning with structures of systemic racism, colleges throughout the nation are also grappling with an epidemic of sexual assault, harassment and violence against women,” Watson said. “The two works selected explore this issue along with the discrimination and misogyny so often suffered by women and the LGBTQIA community more generally.”
Neal Long, a KU doctoral student in voice and co-director of the productions, said the project has provided invaluable experience for students, both in terms of challenging contemporary repertoire and social justice.
“The relationships we’ve fostered with the communities represented in the operas have been critical not only to the success of the project but also our own personal growth,” Long said.
One of those relationships is with co-director Lily DeSett, who assisted with the production of “As One.”
“Working on ‘As One’ has been the honor of a lifetime,” DeSett said. “I remember hearing about this opera back in a time when I was too scared to live my life authentically, as I am now, and it gave me hope. I’m so glad that I was able to be a part of the telling of this story, a story that needs to be heard.”
Both operas contain mature content, and viewer discretion is advised. A representative from KU Counseling and Psychological Services will be available virtually during the performance to support currently enrolled KU students who may find themselves emotionally affected. Community members requiring support may reach out to Headquarters Counseling Center, which provides 24/7 services free of charge.
A virtual community conversation hosted by the Spencer Museum of Art at 6 p.m. April 29 will provide a chance to further discuss themes from both operas in conversation with ideas in the museum’s exhibition “Healing, Knowing, and Seeing the Body.”
Top right photo: A rehearsal for "Snow Angel" and "As One."